National Defense: Study: U.S. Energy Policy Fuels Global Insecurity

December 3, 2012

New research funded by the Defense Department concludes that U.S. laws that require fuel suppliers to blend corn-based ethanol with gasoline contribute to social instability and armed conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.

U.S. production of corn-based ethanol over the past six years — along with commodity trading speculation — has kept food prices artificially high, which has caused unrest in parts of the world that the Pentagon regards as strategic hotspots, contends a study by the New England Complex Systems Institute.

The use of food-based feedstocks in alternative fuels has been a hotly debated topic for years. Other experts have rejected NECSI's conclusion.

The study, first published in July, identifies U.S. government ethanol subsidies and mandates as the cause of soaring food prices that have led to civil unrest and violence in countries where Al-Qaida and other extremist groups look for safe havens. “While there have been several suggested origins of the food price increases,” NECSI concludes, “We find the dominant ones to be investor speculation and ethanol production.”

NECSI is an independent academic research and educational institution in Cambridge, Mass. Its investigation on the impact of food prices on global security was partly funded by U.S. military agencies, including the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Army Research Office.